Is Saturated Fat Good, Bad, or Neutral?

by Jackie Wicks

The Results Weighed

Here’s the list of results and studies which back them (I also included meta-analyses):

Saturated Fat Plays No Role:1,2,3,4,5

Replacing Saturated Fat Lowers Risk:6,7,8,9,10

Completely even. Granted, my methods are not what you would call comprehensive as I have limited time. I pulled only articles published in the last four years, and I searched through ten pages of Google Scholar results. I don’t think I pulled any article past page 6 on any of my searches—they simply weren’t relevant to our question any more.

So what do we make of this information? Half the studies suggest that saturated fat plays no role in the development of heart disease whatsoever, the other half suggest that if we replace saturated fat with another dietary element, usually mono- or polyunsaturated fats, that we’ll reduce risk of heart disease. It seems like the information is inconclusive, and in some ways it is, but for the purpose of reducing the incidence of heart disease, it’s conclusive enough. I’ll explain why.

[quote align=”left” color=”#999999″]We don’t fully understand the role of saturated fat in heart disease risk yet, but we do know that only one of the two options offers any benefit.[/quote]

Imagine that I gave you choice between two options. If you choose option A, then I might give you $20. If you choose option B, then I’m not going to give you anything no matter what. It seems like a pretty obvious choice, right? You’d choose the possible $20 every time because it’s the only option that has any benefit to it.

The research on saturated fat and heart disease offers us a similar type of option at this time. We can opt to believe that eventually future research will bear out the hypothesis that saturated fat is neutral, or we can opt to believe that eventually future research will bear out the hypothesis that we can lower risk by lowering saturated fat.

If you opt to believe that saturated fat plays no role, you’re not gaining anything: your risk of heart disease is going to stay exactly the same. If, on the other hand, you opt to believe that you can cut your risk through dietary change, then there’s a chance that you’ll actually improve your health. When doctors, dietitians, and nutritionists recommend to a heart disease patient to cut their saturated fat intake, we’re not doing it because we conclusively believe that saturated fat is 100% going to kill you, we’re doing it because it’s the only option which could possibly create change.

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